Christmas on Ward 84

10 November 2014

Imagine your child suffering from cancer and waking up in a hospital bed on Christmas Day morning.

Helen started caring for children with cancer on Borchardt Ward at Pendlebury Hospital in 1997. Five years ago when the hospital moved to the new site, and became Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, Helen became the Ward Sister of Ward 84, now the regional centre for the treatment of children’s cancer. Caring for children from just a few weeks old up to aged 16, Helen acknowledges that some are just too young to know what is wrong with them, while some only know too well what having cancer means.

Helen and her team do all that they can to take some of the fear and stress away from the patients and their families who are going through one of the darkest times of the life, but she notes that this can often be so much more difficult  when it comes to the family festive time of Christmas. The team of staff work tirelessly to ensure as many patients as possible can spend their Christmas at home with the family, even if this is just for a few hours on Christmas Day or a day or two, but unfortunately there are always those who are just too sick to go home.  

Helen says:

“Cancer families understand the importance of their child staying in hospital, they know their child must carry on having their treatment, it’s something they bravely battle on a daily basis but at Christmas this is a 100 times worse for them. Imagine telling your little girl, or little boy that they can’t spend Christmas at home, that Father Christmas won’t be delivering presents to the stocking under the tree at home, but he will know they are in hospital and make sure their presents arrive at the foot of their hospital bed because they’re just too poorly to go home.”

“Emotions run especially high for the parents of newly-diagnosed children, they’ve already made plans for their Christmas, where they’re going for Christmas dinner, arranging to visit family and especially what presents they’ll be getting – then before Christmas  being told their child has cancer. The diagnosis turns the family’s life upside down and the thought of Christmas becomes an entirely different thing, Christmas is a time for family and so we want to do all we can to make Christmas day as nice and as normal as it can possibly can be in hospital.”

“Each year, on Christmas Eve, Father Christmas delivers presents to 12-15 patients on Ward 84 as they sleep. Father Christmas is very accommodating to the needs of our patients and although the opening of presents may be tainted by illness, due to some patients feeling pretty rubbish as they are  receiving chemotherapy, staff still struggle to get the children to sleep as they are still excited. Families are encouraged to spend as long as possible on the ward with their child and the young patients are treated to a Christmas dinner.”

 Helen admits the staff work with parents to ‘spoil rotten’ the young patients, especially if a child is terminally ill.

“Not matter what the child’s diagnosis is; there is often still a thought in the back of parent’s minds of ‘will this be our last Christmas with our child?’ As a mum of three, the thought is unimaginable; we work with their parents to make the day as special as we can so that they have happy memories of being in hospital on Christmas Day.”

“The parents on Ward 84 are such a wonderfully tight-knit group of people with a real community spirit, but at Christmas everyone pulls together, they are all in the same boat. The strength and courage of these families is inspirational, they keep going and do whatever they can to improve the lives of not just their own child but all children on the ward.”

From the moment the Christmas tree goes up in December, Helen says the families start getting into the festive spirit and, as well as giving all the necessary care and processing admissions, the patients receive Christmas visits from famous faces helping to add to the festivities. As Christmas day approaches, tensions can run high as the staff from across the hospital work to get those who are well enough, home in time to open their presents.

“The nurses know that the possibility of working Christmas Day is part of their job, they plan their own festivities, with their own families, around giving the patients the best day possible.”

“Walking into a children’s cancer ward can be terrifying, it is not somewhere people choose to be but it really is an amazing place where very poorly children do get better. I can honestly say it is the best possible place children with cancer could ever hope to be.”

This year our Christmas Appeal is raising money to make our children's cancer ward less sterile and more child focused.  To find out more please visit our Christmas Appeal page.